Lit Fest Lunchtime Lecture — Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Reviewed by Kev McVeigh

To a gratifyingly packed auditorium at the Storey CIC, Carol Coates introduced her talk by saying that the only simple facts about Coleridge were the dates of his birth and death (1772-1834.) She proceeded then to list many of his attributes and roles in an attempt to assure us, it seemed, of Coleridge’s importance. Although she mentioned his role in inspiring and mentoring Wordsworth (and in my eyes it was a more mutual relationship than that) what she missed was his role as inspiration to a generation of prose writers (Hazlitt, Hunt, Hone, Cobbett Jeffreys, etc.)who reacted against Coleridge’s Toryism and his abandonment of his ‘powers’ and became leading figures in British radical reform.

For most people, however, Coleridge’s reputation rests on two works, The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, which Coates read long excerpts from, and Kubla Khan read entire. Correctly, in many critics eyes, identifying that the latter is in fact a constructed whole rather than the ‘fragment’ the poet disingenuously claimed, I think she caused a stronger reading of the poem to emerge than simply the rich fantasy image often seen. (The same applies to Wordsworth’s ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ which is about imaginative power rather than flowers.)

To finish this brief talk, she read two of Coleridge’s conversation poems highlighting his role in creating this then new and original form. ‘This Lime-Tree Bower, My Prison’ and ‘Frost At Midnight’ epitomise Coleridge at his most confident. They also serve to highlight Hazlitt’s remark of 1825 ‘all that he has done of moment, he has done 20 years ago.’

Of course Coates’ brief here was an overview of Coleridge the poet, and she delivered a charming, entertaining and enlightening talk. For me it left me wanting more, which was her stated intent, ‘Go away and read Coleridge’ she told us at least a couple of times. It also left me, personally, wanting a discussion opportunity and the chance to go into more depth. Another time?

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